Declan’s chasing me with a stick.

“Don’t chase me with a stick,” I say. I know someone whose eye was poked out. Sticks are dangerous.

“I’m not chasing you. The zombie’s chasing you.”

“Zombies go slow.” Plants vs. Zombies is Declan’s obsession–a game where plants protect us from zombies. Because of this, he declared he’d help me in the garden this year. I was happy until he stopped me from eating vegetables.

“Don’t eat the bok choy! It punches zombies!” I take some when he’s not looking. I’ll say zombies got it. If I have to lie to eat dinner, I will. Politicians and brokers lie for worse reasons. Lying is never good but sometimes necessary. Now that the veggies have been personified, though, I’m struggling to cut them. I hear echoes of people saying, “You’re a vegetarian? Don’t you mind killing carrots?”

He hasn’t put down the stick. I tell him again.

“It’s not a stick. It’s a pole from your garden. I’m pole vaulting… Get ready to fight, Mom!”

Before I object, he leaves the land of the undead for the world of samurai in the worst sort of Japanese-Hollywood mashup. He becomes the sum of the greatest swordsmen of the East and West, stuffed into a seven-year old body. Miyamoto Musashi-meets-Enigo Montoya, swinging and slashing a stick at my head. I move just enough to avoid facial scaring or losing an eye.

“Hi-ya!” I don’t know what to correct first.

“Don’t hit me in the face with a stick! And swordsmen don’t say ‘hi-ya.'”

“Sorry, Mom.” He swings again hard. I move the slightest bit. He expected to hit me, so he and the stick go flying.

I love the worlds he creates in his mind. He sees them down to the last detail when I see only grass, birds and trees. I hope he keeps this ability. It’s either genius or insanity. Either way, the world needs more of it. It’s the type of thinking that creates the biggest things–the innovations that save us. He will be one of those creators.

I’m tired of dodging the stick. I tell him to get bats. He runs as fast as he can, laughing and screeching, returning with two yellow whiffle ball bats. This type of activity is probably banned in the parenting playbook, which also restricts dodgeball and all other things dangerous and messy. We cross “swords.” The duel begins.

If you want to learn the meaning of life, watch a kid. Kids act in accordance with the laws of the universe–Daoism in its purest form. They haven’t learned to be constrained or taken on the stiffness that regulates adult movements, thinking, and activities. I’ve sparred countless matches against adults–they’re predictable. The next punch, kick–it all follows a pattern right down to the psychology.

Working with kids is where I usually get hit. The innocent meets the unconventional. Their minds are open to any possibility–they are channels of the unexpected.

Thinking like a child means energy flows without being restricted to society’s rules. It’s magic. This produces amazing results–the greatest things are created, problems solved, battles won. It’s how I will probably get my head chopped off in this duel, and how I have my greatest moments of creativity.

But somewhere along the road, the child’s magic is replaced by a lock and chain. The child is sentenced to The Rules. For some it happens in school. For others in jobs, and for the rest, it’s the official threshold to adulthood.

I hope that never happens to my little boy.

“Ah HA!” he says, “I cut off your leg! Hop around!” I say it’s nothing but a flesh wound. I continue fighting. A welt is forming. He tries his hardest to sever more of my body parts, going for broke every time.

I swing gently in return, letting my blocks flow in a circle. I try not to hurt him. I hold back. Holding back–it’s how a person loses in life. Winners go for broke. This boy is a winner.

Whack! “Ah ha! You have no arm!” I feel a second welt.

I follow his lead. I go for broke, too. I deflect his blow, and parry around, whiffle-sword resting against his neck.

“Ah ha! I win!” I’m happy, a forty-three year mom old beating a seven-year old kid. He is defeated. Vanquished. Subjugated. I shouldn’t be gleeful, but I am. I rest, victorious.

He thinks a moment, steps back and spins around twice. He makes a video game noise and announces, “Round two!”

I protest. “I won! I cut off your head! You can’t fight without a brain.” I realize that’s an unfair statement–a great many people do tons of things in life without brains.

“I grew a new one. Time for round two!”

Declan’s discovered another key to life. A person can’t lose if he’s making the rules. It’s good to be that person. Even at seven years old.

“I want your real swords, Mommy.”

“Not today.”  I’m pretty sure there’s a chapter in the parenting guide that’s serious about that. Even if Declan seems to be rewriting the rules as he goes.

We finish our fight and he declares me the best mommy ever, which I take to be a great compliment since I just cut off his head. I tell him it’s time to go inside–the mosquitoes are biting and it’s getting late.

Even Musashi had a bedtime at seven years old.


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